Feather loss in poultry
Feather loss in poultry (not natural moulting) can be an important indicator of problems in the flock. Identifying the cause of a feather loss quickly can help to improve the health of your flock.
Excessive feather loss can result in:
- injuries, infections or bruising of the exposed flesh
- reduced egg production
- an increase in feed consumption and poor feed conversion.
Feather pecking and pulling can be a learned behaviour and is usually the result of 1 or a few members of the flock exhibiting the behaviour.
Severe feather pecking can be due to:
- lighting problems
- poor nutrition
- lack of environmental enrichment
- territorial disputes or aggressive behaviour by some members of the flock.
Territorial behaviour is likely to be the reason if only a few birds have feather loss. Observe the flock to determine if some birds are being overly aggressive.
Remove birds causing the problem for a few weeks. If this doesn't fix the problem, permanent removal may be required.
You can also provide enrichment such as hay or string to redirect inappropriate pecking.
Cannibalism can often be the result of severe feather pecking. Injured birds with open and fleshy wounds (often around the vent area) attract further pecking, leading to cannibalism.
Purchasing beak-trimmed stock will reduce the likelihood of feather pecking and cannibalism, especially if problems associated with lighting, stocking density and nutrition have been corrected.
Environment and stress
Environmental factors that cause birds to become unhealthy or stressed can lead to feather loss.
A lack of food and water is the most frequent cause of stress-induced feather loss in poultry. Mouldy feed or a diet that is not balanced can also bring on moulting. Lack of cool, clean water, even for a short time, can cause birds to moult.
To reduce stress and environmental factors:
- observe your birds to identify any possible diseases
- regularly check for external parasites such as lice and mite
- provide a temperature-controlled climate and avoid extremes in heat or cold
- adequately ventilate sheds to reduce ammonia build-up
- keep litter dry and change when necessary
- prevent predator access by having adequate fencing and locking up birds at night
- handle birds quietly using appropriate restraint and support
- trim rooster claws and spurs to avoid feather loss in hens during mating.
Abrasion due to rubbing against other birds or surroundings can be managed through:
- lower stocking densities
- alternative cage materials
- eliminating all rough and sharp surfaces.
Treating injured birds
Isolate the sick or victim bird and treat wounds with antiseptic treatment. Colour the wound with dye – not red as this attracts further pecking. Contact your vet if needed.
Carefully reintroduce the injured bird to the flock once it has healed. Monitor the flock to ensure pecking is not repeated.
- Last reviewed: 22 Nov 2022
- Last updated: 30 Nov 2022